The bar at Dukes is agreed by all to be one of the finest in London. It comprises a collection of three small Edwardianesq rooms, their walls dripping with portraits and etchings, and low lighting,
The head barman, Alessandro Palazzi, is one of the most highly respected and admired cocktail makers, as well as a James Bond aficionado. You might say he is one of the original enfants terribles of the bar world, challenging the strict cocktail mixing confines that were so rigorously enforced into the late twentieth century. So respected and knowledgeable on gin and whisky is he that he has been involved in the production of numerous such spirits, including the famous No.3 Gin from Berry Brothers & Rudd.
Staffed by a team of four white-jacketed Italian waiters all trained by Alessandro, the bar is famous for it’s martini and Vesper. Each one is poured in front of you. The barman wheels over his trolley, replete with gin or vodka, homemade vermouth and large Amalfi lemons; the only other item is the frosted martini glass taken straight from the freezer. There is no sign of a cocktail shaker or jug to mix the drink in. Why? Because, the bottles of alcohol come straight from the freezer too.
To make the martini, a few dashes of vermouth are added, swirled around the glass and then tipped on the carpeted floor. The stopper from the gin bottle is removed and the gin is poured freehand to the rim of the glass. Finally, the Amalfi lemon is given a shave and its peel gives up its oils to dress the top of the ice-cold liquid before being added itself. It is pure art to watch and to drink.
For those after something else, the bar menu has everything from traditional cocktails – the Moscow Mule in pewter tankard is superb – to creations of Alessandro and his James Bond inspired cocktails. There are also one or two off menu items that you may get to hear about if judged worthy.
At about £20 per drink, they are not cheap, but well worth it and you are usually limited to just two given their strength. Millilitre for millilitre you get far more for your money at Dukes than anywhere else, given the drinks aren’t made using ice. What this all combines to produce is an exquisite cocktail made up of at least four full measures of spirits.
St. James’s Place
Image courtesy of Alessandro Palazzi